Blessing And Fearlessness In Suffering

The recording of the sermon was not initially on this post, but we were able to get it later and add it here.

1 Peter 3:13-17 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Good morning. Happy Father’s Day. Dads, we’re very grateful to have you here and are glad to celebrate the gospel with you on this day. We’re especially grateful for those of you who do such a remarkable job imaging our true Father in your fathering. However, just like on Mother’s Day where, instead of a Mother’s Day sermon I continued on in 1 Peter, it seems to me that what you need more than a typical Father’s Day message is to continue pressing in to 1 Peter, looking straight at the cross and the glory and transforming power of the One who hung on it in obedience to the Father. With that… 1 Peter.

This is our second week in this remarkable passage. As a brief introduction or reminder, last week we considered three foundational beliefs that Peter built this passage upon. While none of them are explicitly stated in this passage, all are assumed and necessary to understand and obey it. The three beliefs are God’s sovereignty over all things, God’s glory as the goal of all things, and the need to share the good news concerning salvation in Jesus with all people (even those that persecute us). From there we considered the first three (of twelve) essential principles for honoring God in times of suffering. Once again, here’s the list:

  1. The deep emotive side of mature Christ-following (3:13).
  2. The evil-binding role of the unbeliever’s conscience (3:13).
  3. The judgment of God causing the searing of conscience (3:14).
  4. Suffering for righteousness’ sake leading to blessing (3:14, 17).
  5. The inherent fearlessness of the Christian life (3:14).
  6. The source of Christian fearlessness (3:15).
  7. The visible nature of genuine, Christian hope (3:15).
  8. The proper response to persecution (3:15).
  9. The proper disposition of the proper response to persecution (3:16).
  10. The proper aim of the proper response to persecution (3:16).
  11. The relationship between God’s will and your suffering (3:17).
  12. The Christian’s role in executing justice (3:17).

Today we’re going to pick up where we left off by considering the next few of these ideas. Let’s pray that God would drive these things deep into our minds and hearts and then out in our lives.

Again, last week we considered the biblical teaching that deep, truth-based emotion is an essential component of the Christian life. In fact, we saw that deep emotion is one of the surest proofs that we are Christians and that we understand the truth-claims of God’s word.

We also considered the fact that God puts a conscience in all people as part of the very core of our personhood/divine image-bearing. Under ordinary circumstances, therefore, Christians doing good, Peter wrote, ought to expect no harm to come upon them.

And yet, the third thing we considered is that at times, as an expression of his most severe earthly judgment, God removes men’s consciences and gives them over to their depravity. When this happens sin is no longer seen as sinful and, worse still, is often seen as good. When that happens, Christians are persecuted. Peter’s readers understood this because they were experiencing it to a significant degree.

This leaves us with the question of what to do when we find that the consciences of the non-Christians around us have become dulled. That is, we must ask how Christians ought to respond when God’s judgment removes the consciences of unbelievers and they begin to persecute us for doing good.

Everyone who truly follows Jesus will suffer. It’s not a question, therefore, of if we’ll suffer, but whether or not we will do so in a manner pleasing to God—which must be the aim of all Christians. And that brings us to Peter’s fourth essential perspective for suffering well.

Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake Leads to Blessing
If I asked you if you would be willing to trade a sliver for the cure for cancer, would you take that trade? What about a sprained finger for the salvation of a loved one? How about a rug burn for the end of child hunger? Easy trades, right?

I certainly don’t mean to make light of the serious suffering that some of you have been forced to endure, but Peter’s point in this section is that no amount of suffering—and he was certainly no stranger to real, prolonged, intense suffering—can compare to the blessing of God promised to those who endure that suffering faithfully.

That’s the essence of 1 Peter 3:14 where Peter writes, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.”

When consciences are dulled, and zealous acts of goodness are not praised but persecuted, in our passage for this morning, Peter tells the Church to respond in a number of ways. The first is to remember that suffering for righteousness’ sake always leads to disproportionately greater blessing. That is, Christians suffer well only when we recognize that insofar as we suffer in faith, we are not trading a jab for a jab, an eye for an eye, or 10 units of suffering for 10 equal units of blessing. Suffering faithfully is not a 1:1 trade.

Instead, Peter writes, Christians who are forced to endure 10 units of suffering for zealously doing good—for righteousness’ sake—will receive 10,000,000 units of everlasting blessing. No matter what form or degree of suffering we endure (even abuse or death) our blessing will be incomparably greater and indisputably worth it.

Undoubtedly Jesus’ own words were still ringing in Peter’s ears as he wrote these words.

Luke 18:28-30 Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Grace, we cannot honor God, and our ministry to unbelievers will be far less powerful, if we view our suffering as as bad as God’s blessing is good. Take risks for the gospel, Grace, and know that every risk will be rewarded with overwhelming disporportionality.

We considered the nature of the blessing a couple of weeks ago so I won’t do anything more than remind you of it this morning. In this life, the blessing of God is such that (as Peter writes in 5:10), “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Ultimately, however, the fullness of his blessing is in God’s everlasting, communal presence. That is, God himself is the greatest blessing of those who remain faithful through various trials. The promise of everlasting, unfading, undiluted, incorruptible communion with God is our greatest blessing and our greatest strength in times of suffering (1 Peter 1:3-5). Likewise, our joy in that promise, regardless of our circumstances, is our greatest ministry power.

If there’s a single, consistent message in 1 Peter it is the simple fact that Christians ought not adopt the world’s perspective on suffering. The world around us believes we ought to do whatever is necessary to get out of suffering as quickly as possible. Christian suffering, God-honoring suffering, on the other hand, is consistently viewed in this letter (and throughout the NT) as a tool for glorifying God, ministering to unbelievers, and as a doorway to blessing beyond description (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Remember, Peter’s aim in this letter, and this passage within it, is to provide Christians with all the tools we need to endure trials (particularly persecution) in a manner pleasing to God. Knowledge that suffering for righteousness’ sake leads to blessing is one such tool. And what a tool it is.

The Inherent Fearlessness of the Christian Life
The next component of suffering well mentioned by Peter in this passage is found in v.14.

1 Peter 3:14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them [the ones who cause you to suffer for righteousness’ sake], nor be troubled [by them or your temporary suffering]…

In general, Peter wrote, when Christians give themselves to doing good, because of the evil-binding power of God-given consciences, we ought not expect persecution. However, because of God’s judgment, at times (like the times of Peter’s letter), Christians will in fact “suffer for righteousness’ sake”. (All of that we saw last week.)

When that happens (when good is persecuted) at the hands of Godless people, the temptation will certainly be toward fear and a troubled heart. On a very real level, it’s not hard to imagine fearing and being troubled by someone who has made it their mission to cause you harm.

We see this (fearful and troubled reactions) throughout the stories in the bible. We see this in throughout Church history. We see this on every bully-infested playground in America today. And, if we’re honest, we find it in our hearts often. When someone means us harm, fear and trouble are often our most natural reactions.

And yet, once again, the God-honoring response prescribed by Peter is very different from what is, perhaps, our “common sense” reaction. But 1 Peter is unapologetically and unsubtly filled with non-common sense commands. Remember, we just read Peter charging citizens, employees, husbands and wives, and Christians in general, not to disregard or run away from bad, sinful governments, bosses, spouses, and other Christians, but to continue to be subject to and run toward them—all very opposed to “common sense”.

Peter is not interested in “common sense,” worldly responses. He is interested in instructing his people on how to respond to persecution in a way that mirrors Jesus’ response to suffering, that points people to the transforming power of God, that that demonstrates the fact that our ultimate satisfaction is in God, not comfort, and that is based on the promises of God, not our circumstances.

In the same way, and for the same reasons, he told suffering saints not to be fearful and troubled by their adversaries. Indeed, according to Peter, mature Christian suffering is fearless, trouble-free suffering.

As you consider the sharp break that this is from “common sense,” keep in mind the situation that many of Peter’s readers found themselves in. They were exiles. They were currently being mistreated. They lived in a time where everyone (from the government officials to the religious leaders) despised them.

It’s one thing to tell someone not to fear a neighborhood bully who’s out to get you. It’s another thing entirely to tell a rag-tag group of nobodies not to fear the rest of the world who was out to get them. And yet, that’s exactly what Peter charged them with. Within their difficult circumstances, Peter charged them, for the sake of the glory and ministry of God, to endure without fear or a troubled spirit.

For Christians, those who fear God, there is no need to fear anything or anyone, ever. The nature of fear is angst or worry caused by the belief that ultimate harm may come upon you. The good news of Christianity is the certain knowledge that all that matters has been secured for us in heaven and that God is working all things out for our good. Indeed, right at the heart of Christianity is the glorious reality that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

The God Christians believe in is (also as we saw last week) sovereign over all things, glorious beyond measure, and loving, good, and present without exception. Whatever trials come our way, therefore, are trials that are subjects of God; they are God’s servants; they are merely God’s tools to accomplish his good purposes in and through us. No trial that comes our way is pointless or will cause us ultimate harm. Where, then, is the place for fear? Where, then, is the place for trouble?

At this point at least some of Peter’s readers were certainly wondering, just like I imagine at least some you are wondering, how to do this; that is, how to practically navigate times of persecution with fearlessness and without trouble. Peter’s readers would have been right to ask, “Where does that kind of perspective come from? How can we possibly do this? We want to think and feel and act in this way, but we are fearful and troubled. Where does the strength to live like that come from?” Peter is kind enough to answer those question in his next few words, and our sixth (and today’s final) crucial perspective.

The Source of the Fearlessness of the Christian Life
Look with me at v.15 for Peter’s answer.

1 Peter 3:14-15 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy…

Grace, everything that you and I do results from submission to some type of lord. Let me give you a quick illustration of what I mean and then explain how that relates to this passage.

I remember as a kid being around people (myself included) who wanted so badly to be “cool” that we’d do almost anything for the approval and praise of our classmates. I had a friend who got a perm in his hair to look like Kirk Cameron (who was the pinnacle of cool—in our estimation anyway—as Mike Seaver in Growing Pains). I had friends who paid over $100 dollars for basketball shoes which made no discernible difference in their ability to sit on the bench because we’d decided the brand was cool. I knew a girl who was so driven to look a certain way, in an attempt to look cool, that it drove her to an eating disorder. In elementary school I stuck a suction cup on my head (which left a perfectly round bruise for weeks), in Jr. High, I cried one time because my mom wouldn’t pay an exorbitant amount of money on a pair of jeans of a certain brand, and in High School I skipped a party once because my parents said I could only go if I took our full size (read, uncool) van.

We did all of these things because “cool” was our lord. We served cool. Our greatest fear and trouble came from the thought of being uncool. Cool was a powerful lord. It was able to compel us to spend great amounts of money and time and emotional energy on it. But cool was also finicky. Cool kept changing its requirements. What it wanted one day (and cost us a lot to get), it didn’t want the next day and so we were forced on another pointless pursuit. Most of us figured out eventually that cool’s power wasn’t in what it ever delivered, it was only in its threat of what it could take from you. That was our lord, and that was its nature and power. It shaped our joys and fears and, therefore, our actions.

Again, all people are serving some type of lord. For some it’s money. For others it’s power. For others still, it’s sex or leisure or control. The nature of our lord determines what causes us joy and satisfaction, but it also determines our fear and trouble. Peter knew this all too well, having made his own safety and reputation lord for a time.

Matthew 26:69-75 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

With this tragic, personal experience in his past, Peter humbly commanded his readers to “regard Christ the Lord as holy”. Only those with holy Jesus as Lord will delight in the things Peter calls his readers to delight in and be able to overcome their fear and trouble of the things that Peter commands them not to fear or be troubled by.

Again, fearlessness and trouble-free persecution come from regarding Christ as Lord. But don’t miss the second part of Peter’s charge. It’s not up to us to decide what kind of Lord to make Jesus. Peter tells us. He must be for us a holy Lord. Suffering well, then, comes from regarding the Lord Jesus Christ as utterly set apart from everything and everyone else in power and glory and majesty and worthiness. It comes from regarding the Lord Jesus as Jesus truly is: the Son of God, the second person of the godhead, the center of all of history, the one who brought the universe into existence and the one for whom the universe exists. It comes from regarding the Lord Jesus as able to keep every promise. It comes from regarding the Lord Jesus as able to deliver us from our sins and into loving adoption as God’s sons and daughters.

When Jesus (not our circumstances, our persecutors, or anything else) is set apart in our hearts as Lord and as holy, we will not fear or be troubled. We will enter each season of suffering in the power of God and the joy of the Lord; eager not to waste our suffering or to miss the blessings it provides.

Grace, as I said in the beginning, this is a remarkable passage. It is one that Peter meant his readers to take seriously and apply every time they encountered various trials. Likewise, it is one that you and I must—if we are to honor God and minister to unbelievers—take seriously and apply every time we encounter various trials. That means what you think it means. It means that when your parents give you seemingly endless chores this afternoon, when your neighbor has his music on too loud tonight, when your boss asks you to take part in some unethical business practices on Monday, when the government taxes you for things you don’t like this year, and when someone points a gun to your head and demands that you renounce your faith in Jesus, when any of these things happen and you’re tempted to fear and trouble, you and I must remember and believe God’s promise to bless you as you endure these things faithfully and you must fend off fear and trouble by submitting to Jesus—not the desire for comfort or acceptance or life or anything else—as your holy Lord. When you and I reply to persecution as Peter charges, we honor God, point to the gospel, and give unbelievers a chance to see the power of God and the amazingness of his grace in action. Amen.